Have you ever stopped and noticed your breathing? Is it quick and shallow or slow and deep? If you’ve never paid attention to your breathing, it’s likely that you do the former. But practicing yoga can help you learn to breathe deeper both on and off the mat. “Why is this important?” you might ask. The reason is that deeper breathing tends to have many benefits for your mental and physical health.
When you let out and take in more air, you bring more oxygen to the base of the lungs and get rid of waste there, so basically you’re flushing and detoxifying. More oxygen also goes to all the tissues of the body, helping with basic body functions and repairs.
Taking fewer and deeper breaths instead of shallow, quick breaths helps calm the nervous system. This reduces stress, which can lead to many health problems, and improves relaxation. Among other conditions, deeper breathing can help anxiety, panic attacks and pain. It also seems to improve a number of breathing conditions, including asthma.
Yoga can bring awareness to your breathing patterns and help you breathe deeply if you don’t already. It can teach you to push more air out, allowing more to come in naturally. Yoga discourages shallow “chest” breathing and encourages deep “abdominal” breathing. You focus on your breathing during every pose and often during warm-ups, meditation and relaxation. Yoga also helps improve your posture; good posture gives the lungs more room, allowing you to take in more air.
Focusing on breathing can also help you meditate. Many people have trouble letting go of their incessant thoughts and worries, so it helps to focus on something. Just as you might focus on music, a candle, guided imagery or chanting, you can focus on your breathing to calm and quiet your mind.
Try the yoga three-part breath to really practice deep breathing. Begin by breathing into your belly. If it helps, you can put your hands there to feel your belly move out with the breath. Then, breathe more air into your chest. Then, breathe just a little bit more into your upper chest/shoulder area. When you exhale, let the breath out first from the upper chest, then the chest and then press your belly in with your ab muscles to get every last bit of air out. Once you press out the air, air will naturally fill your belly first. Practice inhaling and exhaling this way a number of times. After practicing this type of deep breathing, you get better at breathing deeply on a day-to-day basis.
The next time you’re waiting in a line, you’re stuck in traffic or you’re having a root canal, practice deep breathing and you’ll notice your stress level go down. Now, take a deep breath!